The inaugural edition of the World Test Championship has seen a total of 58 completed Tests and some breathtaking action between 2019 and 2021. The two best teams have made it to the final - India and New Zealand will lock horns in Southampton for the mega trophy from the 18th of June. There have been some standout performances by some world-class players during the course of the last two years. We look at the five best players - all-rounders, batsmen and bowlers combined from the first edition of this world event. Players have been selected according to various criteria which include the usual runs scored, averages, wickets taken, strike rate but also contribution in wins, opposition and context of performances based on the situation of match and series.
Here are the Famous Five:
1. Ben Stokes
Amongst the 11 all-rounders who have scored a minimum of 200 runs and picked at least 20 wickets in the inaugural WTC, the numbers of one all-rounder stand out. Ben Stokes has an aggregate of 1334 runs at an average of 46 and has also chipped in with 34 wickets at a bowling average of 26.26 from 17 matches in the competition. In terms of runs, he is several notches ahead of the second-best all-rounder on the count - Jason Holder - who has scored 479 runs in the tournament. His aggregate is also the fourth-highest in the WTC only after Labuschagne, Root and Steven Smith.
Stokes has been a wicket-taker with the ball as is reflected in his bowling strike rate of 47.9 which significantly is higher than some ‘pure’ fast bowlers during this period including the likes of Hazlewood, Bumrah, Anderson, Archer, Boult and Rabada.
The biggest impact Stokes made on a series was in the biggest series of them all - The Ashes in the summer of 2019 in England which marked the beginning of the competition. He scored big runs from difficult positions when England had lost early wickets showing character and resolve to stay at the wicket but also class, talent and ability when he counter-attacked the world-class Australian attack.
Stokes came out to bat at 64 for 3 which worsened to 71 for 4 in the second innings of the second Test at Lord’s. The home team were 0-1 down and Australia threatened to run away with the match in London too before the divine interference of the sought-after England all-rounder. Stokes counter-attacked the likes of Cummins, Hazlewood and Siddle and hammered an unbeaten 115 off just 165 deliveries, hammering his team out of trouble and helping them set a target for the visitors. Australia got a scare but held on to a draw. But Stokes was on fire and was just getting started.
Stokes then produced what is rated by many as the greatest Test knock of all-time. England were bowled out for 67 in the first innings and had a daunting chase of 359. Batting at number 5, Stokes blasted an undefeated 135 off 219 balls including 11 fours and 8 sixes taking the home team to a stunning one-wicket win. He put together 76 for the last wicket with Jack Leach (who contributed 1).
Stokes was the Player of the Series in England’s thumping 3-1 win in South Africa in 2019-20. He again rescued England from a precarious 81 for 3 and hammered 176 against the West Indies in the second Test at Manchester. The timing of the performance again stood out - England had lost the series opener and were in early trouble at Old Trafford. They went on to win the series 2-1.
The context of his performances and ability to single-handedly take England to a win or change the course of a match made Stokes the stand-out all-rounder of the WTC.
2. Ravindra Jadeja
Ravindra Jadeja had the highest batting average of 58.62 amongst all-rounders in the inaugural WTC. His batting and bowling differential of 29.94 was the highest amongst all-rounders with at least 10 matches in the competition. Jadeja consistently scored tough runs from difficult situations for India from the lower middle-order while also chipping in with a bagful of wickets.
Jadeja scored a crucial 58 from number 8 and changed the nature of the series opener against the West Indies at North Sound. He then bagged 13 wickets in the 3-0 sweep against South Africa at home while also registering two fifties. Four of his six-wickets at Visakhapatnam were of the opposition top and middle order.
His most significant batting performance came against Australia in the historic MCG win in 2020. 0-1 down after the shame of 36 all-out, he partnered with skipper Rahane and put together a match-changing century partnership. Jadeja’s gritty 57 off 159 balls was a display of his ability, skill, temperament and character and played a huge role in leading India’s fightback in the series. Jadeja picked four wickets and also affected the run-out of the centurion Steve Smith in the first innings at the SCG.
3. Tim Southee
Tim Southee was only the fifth-highest wicket-taker in the inaugural WTC but played the leading role with the ball in taking New Zealand to the final of the Championship - and thus he finds himself on this list. Southee was the reason New Zealand dominated at home which in turn ensured them of a berth in Southampton.
He was New Zealand’s highest wicket-taker with 51 wickets in just 10 matches at a stunning average of 20.66 and strike rate of 45.9. His strike rate places him at number four amongst all bowlers (after Ishant Sharma, Shami and Broad) with a minimum of 30 wickets and 8 matches. Southee returned with six wickets in the match in New Zealand’s series-levelling innings’ win against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2019. He was the only stand-out performer for New Zealand with 9 wickets at Perth in the defeat against Australia.
Southee’s most significant performance came against India when he dismissed 9 Indian batsmen (7 of them specialists or all-rounders) in the series opener at the Basin Reserve in 2020. He was also the leading wicket-taker of the 2-0 home-series win against the West Indies in 2020 returning with 12 wickets in two matches.
4. Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma was only the sixth-highest run-getter in the inaugural WTC but in terms of impact played a stellar role in taking India to the final of the mega tournament. His average of 64.37 is the third-highest in the Championship (min. 500 runs) only after Marnus Labuschagne and Babar Azam.
Three things stood out for Rohit - he scored big runs at the top of the order for India at a high strike rate pegging the opposition on the backfoot. He also scored runs from difficult situations when most of the others around him had failed.
Rohit saw a dramatic change in his Test fortunes when he was pushed to open the innings for India in Tests from 2019. He immediately tasted success scoring two hundreds in the same match - 176 and 127 against South Africa at Visakhapatnam and followed that with a magnificent double hundred at Ranchi.
He was instrumental in India’s complete annihilation of South Africa at home in the series as the home team triumphed 3-0. What Rohit displayed in this series was reminiscent of what the great Virender Sehwag did for India in the early 2000s - hammer daddy hundreds at a fast pace demoralizing the opposition bowlers - two of Rohit’s three hundreds came at a strike rate in the 80s and one in the 70s. This also gave the Indian bowlers ample time to dismiss an already broken opposition twice.
His most outstanding performance came against England in Chennai in 2021. With India 0-1 down and having lost a few wickets early in the first innings at Chepauk, Rohit produced one of the most remarkable hundreds under pressure counter-attacking to score 161 off just 231 deliveries even as others failed around him. The innings changed the momentum of the match and the series and India went on to register a 3-1 victory. It is rated as one of the greatest Test hundreds in Indian conditions where Rohit showed his class mixing caution with controlled aggression.
Equally impressive was his 66 off just 96 deliveries on a treacherous Motera wicket as he top-scored for India in their first innings’ total of 145. While others failed to get bat on ball, Rohit was in a different zone and actually helped India take the lead. The home team went on to win the match and take a 2-1 lead in the series. Rohit had played the leading role with the bat in India’s fightback in the series and if not for his two great performances India would not have qualified for the final of the World Test Championship.
5. R Ashwin
R Ashwin is India’s highest wicket-taker and the third-highest overall in the WTC with 67 wickets in 13 Tests at an average of 20.88 and strike rate of 46.9 including four five-wicket hauls in the competition.
Ashwin has done three things for India in the WTC which stand out. One, he continues to be India’s greatest match-winner with the ball at home. The off spinner returned with 15 wickets in the 3-0 win against South Africa but his stand-out performance came against England in 2021 when he bagged a whopping 32 wickets in 4 Tests at a stunning average of 14.71 which included three fifers. He was instrumental in leading India’s fightback in the series after the loss in Chennai.
Secondly, Ashwin changed from a support act to a threatening wicket-taker with the ball in SENA countries in this period continuing his good work from South Africa, 2018. He got the wickets of Wade, Smith (for a duck) and Paine in the first innings conceding just 35 runs in his 24 overs in the big Boxing Day Test at the MCG before returning with the massive wicket of Labuschagne in the second innings.
And last but not the least this period also coincided with the return of Ashwin - the batsman. He battled back spasms but did not throw away his wicket, batting out 128 deliveries and 190 minutes for his match-saving 39 at the SCG. He then came out to bat, again under pressure at 106 for 6 in the second innings of the second Test against England in Chennai and top-scored for India with 106 off 148 deliveries even as most others collapsed around him. Effectively, Ashwin had batted England out of the match and along with Rohit Sharma led India’s fight back in the series.